Tag Archives: ict4d

Personal Social Device For Kenya


I know, it’s been done before, but let’s try again, with a different name.  I was reading around Slashdot and was interested in one of their articles about the Qi Ben NanoNote, an ultra-small, clamshell-style computer with specs that match moderately-powered smartphones… of about three years ago.  But there’s a catch! Two actually.  The Ben NanoNote runs all Free and Open Source Software as well as using all copyleft hardware.  What’s copyleft hardware you ask? Why it’s hardware to which everybody has access to final production diagrams and schematics, allowing anyone with resources to implement the hardware design exactly.  Finally, the device only costs $99, and that’s an end user purchase, not an OEM bulk rate, which could arguably be much lower.

Where am I going with this?  Lets’ revive the personal communicator device, tried time and time again but always failing (I know, I’m an idiot)!  Sony did it; there was also that Sidekick device, and many others.  So what would be different? Well, none of it ever reached mass-market distribution in Kenya, none of it was completely Open Source and most certainly none of it was only $99.

Statistics already show there is a vibrant mobile-Internet user group in Africa, and more and more people are joining sites like Facebook and getting their daily news off the web, but they are doing so from tiny screens and T9-ing their input.  Throw in SMS support and there is potential for a new crop of data-bundle-oriented mobile service customers who don’t care about making phone calls.  If you are worried about the perception of lugging around multiple devices, many people already carry multiple phones depending on the number of carriers they use.  Make this new device multi-SIM and it’s even more attractive!

There are disadvantages to the device as it stands now.  There is no camera.  There is no built in 3G modem. There is no custom software that would make the device seem tailored to the mobile social experience.  It’s currently un-marketable as far as I am concerned.

Instead, view the Ben NanoNote as a proof of concept that inexpensive mobile devices can be manufactured and run quality software.  Mobile consumers in Kenya are already accustomed to a web without Flash and H.264 support, so why not create this half step device that opens up more of the web for a fraction of the cost of a 44,000/- black-market iPhone or 80,000/- Blackberry. 

Most importantly, being completely open and, “easy,” to hack (it was designed for it), it could help entice a whole new generation of jua kali hackers in Kenya, who get to see instant results of their efforts running on hardware and over the network.  This is where Nokia and Samsung and other hardware manufacturers are getting it all wrong.  It is far too difficult to modify their devices, to fix problems, to customize the experience, all of which carry a lot of weight in the markets here.  There’s space for an upset and a chance to change how people perceive their mobile devices.  If FOSS can make successful inroads, why not FOSH?

Oh, and make it solar powered just for giggles.

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The RIK And The Issue of Trust

Last night I was talking with my dad when our phone connection got cut off (as is common). The last question he asked before we lost connection though was a question I have been fielding a lot recently, with the unveiling and roll-out of the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK) in Ukunda: how do you prevent people from stealing it? This is not an uncommon question regarding many projects Peace Corps volunteers work on here in Kenya, where the concept of trust, though the same as in the West, is at a different level when it comes to perception of ownership than of that in the West.

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Hakuna Stima, Kuna Shida

Sorry for no post today. Am backlogged on work, and on top of things we lost power unexpectedly (or expectedly I guess, considering it’s the Mombasa summer), and was unable to do any computerized work (read: all my work) today. I would like to take the time however, and briefly inform my lovely readers of a simple fact:

It is immensely difficult to keep students interested in learning computers when there is no electricity.

End of fact.

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Rural Internet Kiosk Launch

I don’t frequently talk about specific projects because sometimes, other than teaching, projects pop up and disappear and if every Peace Corps volunteer mentioned every project that was initiated regardless of if it completely coalesced, well, we would seem like super people, which we aren’t. The fact of the matter is that in development you throw 100 projects against a filter and half of one will come out and it will be all sorts of disfigured from the initial concept, but it will be the only thing slightly usable so you go with it.

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My Trousers Are Dirty

Today was spent mucking around the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK) that was installed at the Kwale Public Library in Ukunda last Saturday. We were having issues with one of the terminals not working and also my inability to remotely connect to the computer from any Internet connection. But both problems have been resolved thanks to a little finagling and rearranging of the haphazard wiring job, as well as the 1 Mbps pipe we have through Intersat. I promise I will write more about the RIK in a later post. For now, a shower is necessary.

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A New Schedule

I think in an entry a while back I may have informed my readers that one of my primary reasons for sticking with Peace Corps has always been that each and every day brings about a chance for something totally random to happen. Last week, my life took one of those unexpected random turns, and now that the spinning has stopped and I am starting to see straight again, I thought I would write about. Apparently, I am now teaching a full Information and Communication Technology Technician course here at NYS.

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Apologies Ahead of Time

I am writing to apologize ahead of time if I don’t get a chance to blog much this week. The end of this week is the launch of the Rural Internet Kiosk, and as a result, myself an all others on the Voices of Africa team are in crunchtime mode, trying to wrap up invitations, programs, food, and for me in particular, entering about 30,000 survey data points into a spreadsheet as well as writing up a little speech. Most likely there will come times when I just need a break though, so hopefully I will still get off a few blog articles. I still think sometimes I am not really in Peace Corps though. Spreadsheets? Internet Kiosks? What the heck is all of this?

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